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New MLB protocols include relaxed COVID-19 restrictions for vaccinated players, staff

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Major League Baseball issued a memo to teams on Monday outlining relaxed protocols for vaccinated players, coaches and staff members, creating a path for them to gather indoors, eat at restaurants, bring family members with them on the road and mostly restore their normal lives after nearly a full year of stringent health and safety policies.

The internal memo, obtained by ESPN, “strongly encouraged” players and staff members to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines. The new protocols would apply to fully vaccinated Tier 1 individuals or teams where 85% of those Tier 1 individuals are fully vaccinated — a threshold met two weeks after the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna and two weeks after the first dose of Johnson & Johnson, a single-dose vaccine.

Individuals who meet that requirement can gather without masks in hotel rooms, carpool together, play cards on airplanes, eat at restaurants, meet outdoors while on the road with anyone of their choosing and stay at personal residences when traveling, among other things.

Those individuals also will not have to wear masks when exercising and don’t have to inform a compliance officer when leaving the team hotel. They will have the option of decreasing testing to twice weekly and will not have to quarantine if they have been in close contact with someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19, as long as they are asymptomatic.

Teams that get 85% of their Tier 1 individuals vaccinated no longer have to wear masks in the dugout and in the bullpen, will no longer have to utilize the Kinexon tracking devices and can restore clubhouse amenities, including pool tables, saunas, steam rooms and video game systems.

The relaxed protocols come as the rate of vaccinations continue to steadily rise in the United States. As of Monday, 28% of the U.S. population had received at least one dose of the three vaccines, according to data compiled by The New York Times. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the current seven-day moving average of new COVID-19 cases has decreased 77.2% compared with the highest peak on Jan. 11.

Managers have stated throughout spring training that they will encourage players to get vaccinated while also respecting the wishes of those who choose not to, prompting questions about whether there will be enough players in the latter group to prevent teams from reaching that 85% threshold.

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Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dustin May to undergo Tommy John surgery

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Los Angeles Dodgers starter Dustin May, one of the game’s brightest young pitchers, will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery to repair a damaged ulnar collateral ligament, the team announced on Monday.

The surgery is scheduled for Tuesday in L.A. and will be performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache. The recovery timetable usually falls somewhere between 12 and 16 months, a prognosis that could have May back for the stretch run of the 2022 season. May, 23, isn’t scheduled to reach free agency until after the 2026 season.

“I feel for him, most important,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “For our ballclub, it’s a big blow. But we have a lot of talented players and we just have to find a way to fill that void.”

The Dodgers began the season with an abundance of high-caliber starting pitching but are currently down to four healthy starters — Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Trevor Bauer and Julio Urias. David Price, who was operating out of a bullpen role, is nursing a hamstring injury that will keep him out four to six weeks. And Tony Gonsolin is still on the injured list, though he has begun the process of being built back up as a starting pitcher.

Gonsolin could return before the end of May, at which point he would essentially take May’s spot. Price is expected to return as a reliever. In the meantime, the Dodgers — forced into a split doubleheader on Tuesday after Monday’s game from Wrigley Field was postponed due to inclement weather — might utilize an assortment of relievers every time a fifth starter is needed.

Another option could be to start Bauer every four days, as opposed to the traditional five. Bauer has long welcomed the opportunity to operate under that schedule, stating that his body has proved capable of remaining at an optimum level with one fewer day off between starts.

“We’ve thought about it, yeah,” said Roberts, who has also previously dismissed the possibility of utilizing top prospect Josiah Gray as a spot starter. “There’s a scenario that it could happen. I think we do a good job of entertaining certain things, and certainly Trevor has talked about that.”

May has a 2.93 ERA with 111 strikeouts and 27 walks in 113 2/3 regular-season innings over the past three years, wowing fans and evaluators with his assortment of triple-digit sinkers and devastating cutters. May won the fifth spot of the Dodgers’ rotation coming out of spring training and appeared to reach yet another level in his development in 2021, with a 2.74 ERA through five starts.

He exited his Saturday start against the Milwaukee Brewers with pain in his right arm and underwent an MRI while the team was in Chicago on Monday morning, which revealed a UCL tear significant enough to necessitate surgery.

Roberts said there were no warning signs leading up to that injury. May’s pregame warm-ups went well, as did his between-starts work days earlier. Nine pitches before exiting, May threw a fastball 99.7 mph. But his last one came in at 94.3 mph, his slowest fastball all season. May noticeably winced and motioned to the dugout.

It’ll be a long time before he throws another pitch.

Roberts spoke to May earlier on Monday and said he was “emotionally obviously down.”

“When you hear kind of the ultimate decision, outcome, as far as having to have surgery, it’s obviously very disappointing. He’s handling it like a pro, wants to figure out what’s the next step after surgery, and kind of attack it that way. But, yeah, I think disappointed, certainly.”

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Chicago White Sox CF Luis Robert out 12-16 weeks with right hip flexor tear

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CHICAGO — Chicago White Sox center fielder Luis Robert won’t resume baseball activities for 12 to 16 weeks while he recovers from a complete tear of his right hip flexor, general manager Rick Hahn announced on Monday afternoon.

Robert, 23, injured himself on the bases in the first inning of Sunday’s loss to the Cleveland Indians. He limped off the field with the help of the training staff and will be examined further to determine a course of recovery.

“Those options include surgical repair if in fact the tear has affected the tendon’s attachment to the bone,” Hahn said. “Or a rehabilitation process in which natural healing will take place if the tear is to the muscle, as opposed to the attachment.

“The timeline is the same, whether there is surgical intervention or rest and rehabilitation.”

Robert is a five-tool player who was hitting .316 with eight RBIs and four stolen bases before getting hurt.

The injury is another blow to the White Sox’s chances in the American League. They lost their left fielder, Eloy Jimenez, for the season to a ruptured pectoral tendon late in spring training and have been without the services of outfielder Adam Engel due to a hamstring strain. His recovery has been slow.

“The setback put us back to square one in terms of his return,” Hahn said of Engel. “He is trending in the right direction but we are currently three weeks away from Adam beginning a rehabilitation assignment.”

Hahn said to expect Leury Garcia or Billy Hamilton to play center field on Tuesday when the team begins a series in Cincinnati, but the team could look outside the organization for replacements. Jimenez’s injury opened the door for playing time for Yermin Mercedes, who just won Rookie of the Month in the American League, but the White Sox might be running out of depth after their latest injury.

“It’s difficult and not how any team draws things up,” Hahn said. He also announced minor league pitcher Reynaldo Lopez had surgery on both of his corneas on Sunday after experiencing blurry vision. He’s expected to make a full recovery in a couple of weeks.

The White Sox did have one piece of good news. The team has surpassed the 85% vaccination threshold of its Tier 1 employees, which triggers a loosening of COVID-19 restrictions. That will occur on May 15 when the last of the vaccinated Tier 1 employees are two weeks out from their final shot.

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Baseball Hall of Fame accepts Roberto Alomar’s resignation from board of directors

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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Baseball’s Hall of Fame has accepted Roberto Alomar’s resignation from the board of directors, chairman Jane Forbes Clark announced Monday.

Alomar, who was elected to the board in 2019, submitted a letter of resignation Saturday in the wake of an allegation of sexual misconduct.

The Hall of Fame second baseman was fired last week as a consultant by Major League Baseball and placed on the league’s ineligible list after an investigation into the allegation. Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the firing Friday, saying in a statement that a baseball industry employee reported an incident earlier this year involving Alomar from 2014.

The league hired an external legal firm to investigate the matter. MLB said it would not provide further details on the investigation to protect the individual who came forward.

Clark said after Manfred’s announcement that Alomar’s plaque would remain on display in the Hall because “his enshrinement reflects his eligibility and the perspective of the BBWAA voters at that time.” Alomar was inducted in 2011.

Alomar also lost his position as a special assistant with the Toronto Blue Jays. The club said it was severing ties with Alomar, including removing him from its Level of Excellence and taking down his banner from Rogers Centre.

The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum also said it would not revoke his status as an inductee, but it did ban him from future Hall events and said it would no longer be associated with him or his foundation.

Alomar was a 12-time All-Star over 17 seasons with the San Diego Padres, Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, New York Mets, Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks. He was known as a slick fielder, winning 10 Gold Gloves, and also for his temper — he infamously spat in umpire John Hirschbeck’s face, earning a five-game ban in 1996.

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